Orlando Magic’s Paolo Banchero has All-Star case even as a rookie

Dec 19, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 19, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero (5) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic may have an All-Star in Paolo Banchero, who has a real case to be the first rookie to make the All-Star team since Blake Griffin in 2011.

In recent NBA history, rookies simply do not make All-Star teams. Name almost any superstar and their All-Star campaign started in year two at the earliest.

Luke Doncic, Zion Williamson, and Lamelo Ball all made it in their sophomore season. Ja Morant made it in his third, Giannis Antetokounmpo in his fourth, and Jayson Tatum and Devin Booker did not make an appearance in the All-Star game until their fifth season.

What Banchero is doing this season is truly special.

All-Star voting is well underway throughout the league. And the Orlando Magic have a rare rookie who should get serious consideration for the trip to the league’s winter showcase.

In the aforementioned Blake Griffin season, he averaged 22.5 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. A caveat here is this was technically Griffin’s second season in the league due to injury, similar to what happened to Ben Simmons a few years ago.

Griffin also earned a starter’s spot thanks to fan popularity from his highlight-creating dunks.

Banchero is not likely to get the starting nod Griffin received. But he is on pace to average the most points per game for a rookie since this Griffin 2011 season.

To continue the list of rookies that made the All-Star game, you have to go back even further after Griffin.

Yao Ming made it in 2003 as part of the fan vote, but his numbers were not entirely deserving of the selection. Tim Duncan made it in his incredible 1998 rookie season.

But even LeBron James and Kevin Durant could not make the All-Star game as a rookie.

Luka Doncic possibly had the best shot to do it since Blake Griffin, averaging 21.2 points per game to go along with 7.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in his rookie season. Around the time of the All-Star voting, Doncic was averaging just about 20 points per game and elevated it as the year went on.

In that year, Doncic narrowly missed out on the selection due to the talented Western Conference just having too many options to fill the 12 slots.

Banchero could be in the same situation this year in the Eastern Conference, but he does have a case. His numbers are similar to Doncic’s in his rookie season – 21.1 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game on 44.5-percent shooting.

From the first game of his career, Banchero has elevated the Orlando Magic’s floor and has been a huge part of the turnaround over the past few weeks.

With almost historic numbers for a rookie, Banchero’s biggest obstacle here is the competition he has in the Eastern Conference.

There are 30 players averaging more than 20 points per game in the conference. In the current NBA, 30 is really the new 20. Simply averaging 20 points per game does not guarantee you an All-Star appearance anymore.

Just ask Trae Young who missed out on last year’s team despite averaging 27.3 points per game.

Breaking it down, there are four forwards in the East competing for the three starting frontcourt spots – Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and Kevin Durant. All four are locks.

Three guards are also locks for the roster — Donovan Mitchell, Trae Young and Jaylen Brown. This leaves about 8-10 guys competing for the remaining five spots on the team.

It looks dicey for Banchero, but he is among this group.

Pascal Siakam’s numbers are too good to snub. He is putting up more than 26 points per game and is averaging more assists and rebounds than Banchero.

The two other frontcourt players Paolo Banchero would need to beat out are Julius Randle and Kristaps Porzingis. You could even throw Bam Adebayo in there.

Randle might deserve it over Banchero due to the New York Knicks’ place in the standings and his superior numbers. But Banchero certainly could beat out Porzingis — 21.9 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this season.

A couple of veteran All-Stars, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, might get the nod for some of the remaining spots. They would usually be at the top of the fan vote, but their recent escapades may have burned some bridges among the coaches voting for the reserves.

Irving has played 24 games and the Nets are streaking so he fully deserves it. But Harden has only played 19 games so we will leave that up to interpretation. Jimmy Butler could also be in this conversation as he has only played 21 games.

Two young guards, Darius Garland and Tyrese Haliburton, deserve to have their names thrown into the hat, but they may finish as alternates. Or they could take one of those wild card spots to fill out the roster.

Looking at everything laid out, the alternate route may be the best way for Paolo Banchero to become an All-Star this season.

In the past couple of years, 12 players make the official All-Star roster, but many are swapped out due to injury before the actual game. Sometimes several alternates are required, which has benefitted players like Devin Booker and Damian Lillard in the past.

In the East this season, Banchero’s name should be listed right up there with the top alternates and should someone need to be swapped out, Banchero deserves a call.

Moving forward, the Magic are lucky to have a player in the All-Star conversation this young. In many cases, a player’s All-Star resume comes down to two things, individual numbers and team success.

Even if Banchero does not make the team this year, he should get a nod as early as next season as the Magic begin to climb up the standings. Just look at Garland, he made it last season despite averaging nearly six points fewer per game than Young.

The key here is team success. Last season, the Cavaliers had one of the best records in the East as the All-Star game approached. If the Magic are top four or five in the East next season, Paolo Banchero and maybe even Franz Wagner could make it.

What Paolo is doing this season is generational. His name is showing up on graphics with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James. He has a real case to be an All-Star this season.

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But if he narrowly misses the cut, do not worry. It is coming soon enough.